The Magic of Utila

1/11/22

Utila is the smallest of Honduras’ major Bay Islands. It marks the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the second largest reef system in the world. Its population is around 4,150. It is about 11 miles long and 2 miles wide. It is about 25 miles from mainland Honduras, and the same distance away from Roatan, Honduras. For me, it was one of the most laid-back and enjoyable places I have traveled to. The streets are lined in colorful shops and restaurants, yet not once did someone try to get me to buy something. There are tuk tuks everywhere (small open-air taxi), yet no one ever tried to get us to ride one. Locals seemed more prevalent than tourists, and everyone was so damn friendly. Kyle said that no one on Utila seemed desperate and I agree. They just seemed to be.. well.. simply being. It was quite refreshing, and I thought to myself how happy I was for them that they came off that way. Hopefully that means they are truly enjoying their lives on the island. The shore lining the anchorage was filled with dive shops and some restaurants and bars thrown in. We had read on the chart that you could get dive certified for fairly cheap, and that the diving was very affordable. So on our second day in Utila we had two missions: climb to the top of the mountain we could see while sailing in, and find a spot for Mason and Zoie to get dive certified.

We all slept in that second morning because it was our first night of sleep without the boat moving for a few days. So after a slow morning, we gathered our backpacks, sun screen, and snacks and headed to shore. We didn’t really know where to go but being such a small island, we decided to just head up the street and see what we could find. We quickly saw a sign that said “pumpkin hill this way”. Following that sign, we walked along the road and oohed and ahhed at all the vacant properties that were for sale. Mason is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to fruit, so he was good at spotting different fruit trees and we daydreamed of buying a piece of property on Utila surrounded by fruit trees.

The paved road eventually became dirt and we saw more signs for Pumpkin Hill. We came to a crossroads and decided to head straight because we could hear waves breaking which means we had almost walked to the other side of the island. The walk towards the beach was very picturesque. Tall greenery lined the sand covered road. Large iguanas skittered away in the underbrush. Small crabs scuttled across in front of us. The sun’s beams shot down through trees which created a tunnel over the road. And the smell. The smell of sea water and salt spray filled our noses as the sea breeze pushed on our faces. We emerged from the luscious green tunnel and in front of us, an incredible beach. Sand and volcanic rock lined the shore, as waves gently smacked the rocks, creating an orchestra of splashing water as it hit the hollow volcanic rocks. Mason and Zoie walked on ahead down the beach, while Kyle and I gazed out over the horizon looking at the tall mountains of mainland Honduras looming in the distance. They were barely noticeable through the clouds, but the tips of the mountains protruded out of the clouds and looked magnificent. We strolled down the beach towards Mason and Zoie and I found myself filled with gratitude that we found this little island and decided to visit.

After the beach we went back to the crossroads and this time headed up the hill. There we found a place called Rockies. It was a nice little colorful shack with some hammocks and chairs on the front porch. It overlooked the beach we had just come from, and the properties below it were filled with tropical trees and gardens. The employee swayed in a hammock and greeted us before hopping up and going behind the bar. We got cold drinks and sat in the shade with a ceiling fan cooling us down as we cheers’d. We even Googled some of the properties we had seen as we walked and talked about buying a piece of property and putting up a house. A time share / Airbnb type of thing. It was fun to talk and daydream about what our house would look like and how we would make it all work. Who knows, maybe one day, years from now, we’ll be sitting in a similar spot with a similar view on Utila, but instead of the porch of a beach side bar, it will be the porch of our house 😉

The next morning at 7am, Zoie and Mason started their scuba course. For the next few days, it was mostly just me and Kyle. Mason and Zoie were able to fit a course that usually takes a couple weeks because it’s broken up over multiple days and weekends, into 3.5 days. Needless to say, they pretty much lived at the scuba school from sunrise to sunset and even well into the night on some nights.

This allowed Kyle and I to explore Utila, relax on the boat, swim, and discuss the passage from Mexico to Utila a bit more. It was nice to spend some days just the two of us, but we were also looking forward to Mason and Zoie finishing their course so we could do some scuba diving and rent a golf cart to explore all of Utila.

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1/21/2022

The rest of our time in Utila was spent scuba diving, snorkeling, going out to eat, and exploring the island by foot and by golf cart. We also celebrated Christmas in Utila! I am falling behind on these blog posts, so I am going to do a little recap of my favorite moments in Utila before moving on to Roatan.

-The best restaurant in the world- Mango Tango: Sometimes you have these experiences where everything is in alignment. The people you are with, the weather, the setting, the mood, are just in perfect alignment, and it heightens the experience for everyone involved. I am sure you can think of moments in your life that were particularly special. Sometimes for no reason at all, it was just simply the energy of the situation. This is what happened to us the night we went to Mango Tango. We had been told we MUST go to Mango Tango by multiple people. So the day Mason and Zoie got their dive certification, we decided to go on a double date to Mango Tango. Our friend Max had sent us money to go to a special dinner and we saved it just for this evening. Around 6pm the 4 of us walked from the dive shop down the road a mile to Mango Tango. The entrance was inviting with warm lights and modern wooden signs. The interior was even more inviting and felt cozy. We chose to sit outside on the deck which overhung the water. The mood of the group was very positive and high. We were excited to be at a fancy dinner, it was fun that our friend from afar was being so kind and buying it for us, and we had all had a great day so were just generally in a great mood. The waiter came to our table and was incredibly friendly. He was funny, talked really fast while reading the specials, and just had this energy about him that was contagious. We all laughed quite hard after he read the specials because there was so many of them and they all sounded amazing. We then splurged and ordered a bunch of appetizers and margaritas (Mason, Zoie and I got jalapeno margaritas and they were amazing!). At the encouragement of the waiter, we took our time and didn’t order our main dish right away. Instead, we enjoyed our appetizers, drinks, and the atmosphere. We had lovely conversations, lots of laughter, and multiple times all said, “this is the best food I’ve ever had”. Eventually we ordered dinner. The food that came out was absolutely delightful. I ordered a specialty pasta dish, and Mason, Zoie, and Kyle all ordered seafood in some form. To be honest, I can’t even remember who ordered what, all I know is that when it arrived, we were so eager and giddy. Then we started eating and were blown away by how good the food was. Mason must have said at least 5 times, “this is the best food I’ve ever had.” We all agreed. We were completely stuffed, but our waiter came over and with his contagious energy encouraged us to just hang out a bit and see how we felt in a bit about dessert. Twenty minutes later, two different types of dessert were places in front us as well as some local brewed beers. Kyle loves IPA and we had been searching for local IPA since leaving Florida, and this was the first place we found it. That alone made everyone animated all over again. I can’t even explain how full and happy we all were. And then, the bill comes, and including the tip, the total equaled the EXACT amount that our friend Max had given us for a special dinner. It was a special evening and I feel very grateful for the whole experience. The entire rest of the time together we talked about Mango Tango and made a decision that we would all find our way back to Utila for Christmas 2025 and eat at Mango Tango. Thank you Max!

-Christmas on the boat while anchored in a tropical island: It is very difficult for me to get into the “Christmas spirit” while in the tropics. Even when living in Florida, it was hard for me to feel the holiday season. Growing up in Utah, the snow and cold are what I associate with Christmas. Mason also being from Utah and Kyle and Zoie being from Wisconsin, we all agreed. But regardless we put up the little fake Christmas tree, put a few presents under it, and made plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. On Christmas Eve we went to a party on the beach put on by the owner of the dive shop where Mason and Zoie got certified. It was a huge party, and not being much of a party person, and worried about Covid, Kyle and I only stayed for a few minutes before heading back to the boat to watch a Christmas movie. Mason and Zoie stayed and had a wonderful time, I picked them up at 2am in the dinghy 😉 The party continued until 8am the following morning.. clearly they like to party on Utila! On Christmas morning Kyle made us a huge breakfast of potatoes, eggs, veggies, and tortillas, which we made into little tacos. I turned on some Christmas music and made a big pot of coffee. After breakfast we exchanged gifts and opened up some gifts that my parents and Kyle’s parents sent with us. My mom bought us a little Velcro dart game which we had a wonderful time playing with for almost two hours. The rest of the day was spent Facetiming with family and snorkeling on the reef near our anchorage. We planned to sail to Roatan the next morning, so we enjoyed a dinner ashore and said goodbye to Utila.

-Golf cart exploring: The day after Mango Tango we rented a golf cart for 24 hours and explored as much of the island as we could. We drove around pretty aimlessly and found some incredible locations. We found some freshwater caves, a shore line lined in the most interesting rock formations, a hiking trail that led to an observation tower that gave us 360 views of the entire island and beyond. We drove through narrow streets of neighborhoods and waved at the locals sitting outside of their houses. We found ourselves on some steep, muddy roads, and giggled and held our breath, hoping the golf cart would make it up to the top and not start sliding backwards down the hill. We saw the island’s dump and trash pile that was almost as tall as the highest point of the island. We found iguanas in the underbrush and took pictures of the mini dinosaurs. And then, most importantly, we found ourselves at the Utila Chocolate Company. This was an experience similar to Mango Tango. We walked into this place, completely covered in dense trees, giving it the feeling that it was in the middle of the jungle. The vibe was calm, quaint, and the air smelled incredible. The smell of fresh chocolate, coffee, and homemade ice cream filled our nostrils. Swings hung from the ceiling and we all chose a swing after we ordered. I ordered a coffee/chocolate milkshake. Kyle ordered something called “Death By Chocolate” which I am sure you can imagine. Mason and Zoie ordered different types of homemade ice cream, other chocolate drinks, and some fruit juices. We had so much fun, swinging in the cafe of this chocolate company, surrounded by a screened in porch which was surrounded by dense trees and forest.

-Utila as a whole: Honestly, our time in Utila was pretty magical. Mason and Zoie were introduced to a whole new underwater world. They absolutely loved scuba diving and it was so fun to go on two dives with them the day they finished their course. The reef, which is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System (the second largest in the world) was absolutely stunning. So many tropical fish. It was amazing to share their excitement and joy as they discovered a new world. The island is gorgeous. It’s a mix of tropics, a tiny “mountain”, jungle, rainforest, and expansive beaches. The local food is cheap and delicious. The people kind and friendly. The anchorage was protected, and the dinghy dock was free and easy to access. I feel incredibly grateful for our time in Utila, and I look forward to going back.

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1/23/2022

On December 26th, we lifted anchor from Utila, said goodbye and thank you to the island, and headed towards Roatan. It was a 5 hour motor sail into the wind, but it was beautiful out and we had dolphin swimming and dancing on our bow. We even had a baby dolphin, which I had never seen before. Only about 1-2 feet long. I didn’t feel seasick on the trip over, but I did stay on the helm the whole time which always helps me prevent seasickness. As we began approaching the mooring field in West End, Roatan, Mason climbed up the mast steps until he was halfway up. He helped guide me in through the reefs while Kyle and Zoie kept their eyes on the water from the deck. We made it safely inside the reef, and I motored us to a mooring ball (you can’t anchor in West End because it’s a Marine Preserve), and Kyle got us safely secured. We had a reservation to go on an afternoon scuba dive with a dive company in West End, so quickly got our gear ready and headed to the dive shop in the dinghy. It was just the four of us, the dive master, and an instructor in training. This was quite unique because the previous dives we had done in Utila were with a much larger group. I was excited for the intimacy a small group would provide. Our dive master was AMAZING and the 45-minute dive was the best dive I’ve ever had. We saw so much under the water. The visibility was perfect. I didn’t get cold as I usually do. We were able to take our time and really look at things because we didn’t have to keep up with a group. The dive master had this calmness about her that made the whole thing so relaxed. We went down to about 65 feet, but mostly stayed around 40ft. I took some photos with the gopro, but as usual, they don’t do justice to what the world is really like under the water. Mason and Zoie had such a good time that they decided to do another dive with the same dive master the next morning.

Mason and Zoie had a flight out of Roatan on December 28th. We rented a car for 24 hours so that we could explore Roatan and then Kyle and I could take Mason and Zoie to the airport. We enjoyed exploring Roatan, but honestly, other than the diving, we just all loved Utila so much that Roatan felt crowded and too busy to us. The night before Mason and Zoie left, we went out to another fancy dinner and talked about our favorite moments of the trip. The following morning, we stopped at a coffee shop, chatted some more, and then Kyle and I drove them to the airport. The four of us had spent almost 3 weeks together on our little boat. Having not really known each other before they arrived, we felt grateful that we all got along so well. Kyle and I would miss them, but we were also all looking forward to getting back to our own space and routine. It was a perfect amount of time, and I am so grateful for our time together.

Since then, Kyle and I have visited even more magical islands and are currently in a whole new country, again one we didn’t plan visit! We are having an amazing time exploring unexpected places. I am finding that the unexpected, last minute adventures are proving to be the most memorable. Anyway, thanks for reading. Stay tuned 🙂

*Photo credit to Mason, Zoie, me, and Kyle

3 thoughts on “The Magic of Utila”

  1. Love following along on your adventures. How are you dealing with language? Do most places have some one who speaks English or Spanish? Glad you are enjoying the unexpected for some folks stepping out of the plan schedule is hard. Great to see you switching plans as needed or wanted. Thanks

    Like

  2. Absolutely love following this journey!
    From small town Wisconsin to lead a fabulous life off journey and exploring is so refreshing! 🤗

    Like

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